College Football Playoff 2017: How Top Teams Outside the Top 4 Can Get In

Brad ShepardFeatured ColumnistNovember 22, 2017

College Football Playoff 2017: How Top Teams Outside the Top 4 Can Get In

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    For the second straight week in the College Football Playoff rankings, Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Miami kept their spots as the Top Four.

    That means for the second straight week, Wisconsin got little love from the committee.

    On a week where pretty much everybody in the Top 25 played cupcakes, the Badgers defense dominated Michigan in a 24-10 win that left them needing one more tune-up (against Minnesota) before taking on Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.

    The winner of that will have the best shot to represent the conference.

    Unless something changes, the other two teams with the best chance of playing their way into the Final Four are from the SEC in Georgia and Auburn.

    Much like last week, three of these teams on the outside looking in control their own destiny. Only the Buckeyes appear to need help. Let's take a look at what the top "other" teams need to do.

Auburn Tigers

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Why They're Out

    Nothing changed from a week ago thanks to a sleepwalking-but-thorough 42-14 win over Louisiana-Monroe. The early-season loss to Clemson isn't going to hurt AU other than being another mark in the loss column.

    The game the Tigers would like to forget is the setback to LSU where coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey had a brain cramp in the second half with a 20-point lead in what eventually became a shocking 27-23 loss. Malzahn was about as vanilla as possible, calling 17 consecutive first-down runs.

    "I just want to say this: I've got good coaches, I've got good players, and anytime that happens that's on the head coach," Malzahn told the Montgomery Advertiser's Matthew Stevens. "That's on me. That can't happen again. It's not going to happen again. But I take full responsibility."

    He was right. The Tigers have responded in a huge way, but will it be enough?

                

    What Must Be Done

    Auburn may be the only two-loss team in this group, but the Tigers still have just as high a chance as anyone to make it to the College Football Playoff.

    They can't lose again. 

    That's a tall order considering the season-ending Iron Bowl against hated rival Alabama in Jordan-Hare Stadium this week. If the Tigers win, they'll represent the SEC West in the conference championship game and will have to beat Georgia again.

    Of course, the Bulldogs' only loss this year was to Auburn.

    The Tigers felt some accountability after the LSU game, and they've elevated their play since.

                

    Playoff Chances: 45 percent

    Last week, Auburn's chances were 45 percent, and that hasn't changed.

    While the Tigers are capable of taking advantage of Alabama's lack of linebacker depth following a rash of injuries—and can probably get some penetration against an up-and-down Crimson Tide offensive line—it's still a tough task beating UA any year.

    It's also difficult to beat a team twice in the same year, especially a good one like Georgia. It looks like Auburn matches up well against the Bulldogs, but if they meet up in the Georgia Dome, that will be a raucous environment that could give the Dawgs a better chance.

    AU has to be at its best. Anything less, and a third loss tumbles the Tigers back to the middle of the national pack. 

    That said, the public is underrating Auburn's chances. FiveThirtyEight has the Tigers' playoff chances at 21 percent. They have what it takes to beat Alabama at home, and if they do win the Iron Bowl, they should get past Georgia again. 

Georgia Bulldogs

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Why They're Out

    Georgia was penalized heavily for getting whipped by Auburn, free-falling all the way to No. 7, behind the two-loss Tigers.

    The Bulldogs have to be able to move the ball vertically and work some big passing plays off that exceptional running attack that carried them all year. They also must find a way to shield off those edges in the SEC Championship Game, no matter if they play Alabama or Auburn.

    Kerryon Johnson shredded UGA around the ends, and no matter if the Bulldogs get good coverage downfield against Alabama, Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts can do the same. If UGA is an elite team, it's going to have to prove it in Atlanta. But there's still another game to be played before that.

                

    What Must Be Done

    Georgia Tech was whipped last weekend against Duke, which was a stunner. Perhaps the Yellow Jackets were looking ahead to playing against the Bulldogs in the rivalry dubbed "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate."

    Now, the Bees need to beat UGA in Atlanta just to be bowl-eligible. 

    The Bulldogs already knew GT would be hyped to play them, and that's just some extra incentive. After winning that game in Atlanta, the Bulldogs must handle Auburn or Alabama. It doesn't matter if they win that by one or 21; it'll be a statement that will catapult them into the playoff.

    But none of that means anything if they don't get past coach Paul Johnson and Tech.

               

    Playoff Chances: 25 percent

    You know the old cliche about throwing out the records when two rival teams meet? That is the case in Georgia-Georgia Tech. That game is going to be a lot wilder than anybody at UGA wants it to be.

    Then, the Bulldogs need to get past the winner of the Iron Bowl.

    Georgia is capable of being one of the best teams in the nation, but that game in the South's Oldest Rivalry was important, and coach Kirby Smart's team barely showed up. They have to prove to the nation they're capable of winning a big game.

    Yes, UGA beat Notre Dame in South Bend earlier this year, but that was a long time ago. A statement win in the conference championship game (after a win against Tech) is the Bulldogs' only hope for making it to the College Football Playoff. The Dawgs will be an underdog—and rightfully so—in the SEC title game. 

Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Why They're Out

    When you give up 55 points this late in the year to a 6-5 team that's third in the putrid Big Ten West (Iowa), you don't deserve to play for the national championship game. Especially when you consider the Buckeyes got blown out by Oklahoma earlier this season.

    But that's how impressive Ohio State has been in its wins.

    Still, those two ugly losses mean there is a lot of work left to do, and the Buckeyes can't do it on their own. They're in this position because, even though they look like one of the best teams in the nation when they play their best, they can throw up rotten eggs, too.

    It's going to be tough to overcome those two blunders.

                

    What Must Be Done

    The Buckeyes need to whip Michigan this weekend; it needs to be ugly. Then they need to expose Wisconsin's lack of offensive playmakers and throw up a crooked number on the scoreboard in a lopsided win over the Badgers in the Big Ten Championship Game.

    Wait, that's not all.

    The Buckeyes' best friends in all of this are Alabama and West Virginia. If the Mountaineers shock the Sooners this weekend, that propels OSU back into the thick of the race. If that doesn't happen, the Buckeyes need to win out and have the Crimson Tide handle Auburn and then Georgia in the SEC title game.

    If that all happens, the playoffs will feature Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State.

                 

    Playoff Chances: 20 percent

    Last week, this was 35 percent, but it's looking more likely that Wisconsin is for real. Ohio State will be favored when the teams meet in the conference championship game, but it's a toss-up at best for the Buckeyes. 

    When you throw in the other things needing to happen, it makes the Buckeyes the longest shot on this list.

    Sure, Clemson losing to either South Carolina or in the ACC Championship Game can happen, but how likely is that? The Buckeyes need to take care of their own business in impressive fashion and then sit back and hope the dominoes fall in their favor.

    If they don't, they only have themselves to blame for that debacle against the Hawkeyes.

Wisconsin Badgers

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    Andy Manis/Associated Press

    Why They're Out

    The out-of-conference schedule (Utah State, Florida Atlantic, BYU) isn't sexy, even though that win over the Owls is looking better and better as coach Lane Kiffin's Boca Raton resurgence continues.

    Also, the Badgers play in the instant-coffee-weak Big Ten West, where they've dominated throughout the year. Nobody is particularly impressed with the passing ability of Alex Hornibrook, and there are questions about whether he can lead Wisconsin to a win against a great team.

    But the Badgers are 11-0. That has to count for something, right? All this current ranking outside the Top Four means is they have zero chance to make it with a loss. But there's also little chance they'd be kept out if they run the table.

    The committee won't shut out an unblemished Big Ten team.

                

    What Must Be Done

    Handling P.J. Fleck's fading Golden Gophers shouldn't be much of an issue this weekend, so everything zeroes in on that game against Ohio State.

    The past two games, the Buckeyes have demoralized Michigan State and Illinois and looked like one of the best teams in the country. Three weeks ago, they allowed 55 points to Iowa. So, whether Wisconsin wins that game may hinge on which OSU team shows up.

    But that's falling into the no-respect vortex, isn't it? 

    Maybe Wisconsin is just a really good football team. The defense is as talented as any in the country; it's strong, disciplined and deep. The running game is stout, as always. And coach Paul Chryst is underrated.

    If Hornibrook elevates his game, the Badgers will win.

                 

    Playoff Chances: 60 percent

    Beating Michigan last weekend wasn't worth anything? Really? Yes, last week the Badgers sat at 60 percent probability on this list. But with all the other playoff contenders also taking care of business and Ohio State looking dominant again, this number still feels right. 

    As always, everybody is overlooking Wisconsin, just like everybody overlooks Chryst when talking about the top coaches in the country. All either ever do is win.

    "He's not a flashy coach, which I don't think anybody here wants," Badgers right guard Beau Benzschawel told Landof10.com's Jesse Temple. "He's a great fit for Wisconsin. We know every week we're going to have a great game plan going in, and it's our job to execute it."

    Can Chryst outsmart Fleck and Urban Meyer? If so, he'll take his team to play for it all.